When it’s on: Sunday, 22 July (12.25 pm)
Channel: Channel 5
An entry on this site posted around a month ago lamented the fact I had watched Krull in anticipation of its scheduling on a Sunday afternoon, only to find Channel 5 had changed their minds and decided the British viewing public just wasn’t ready for family-friendly fantasy adventure. Five weeks on and Krull’s here, double-billed with Clash of the Titans (the version from 1981, thankfully, not the recent CGI snorer) to show us how these things used to be done in the pre-digital age.
Rightly or wrongly, I have a lot of affection for both films, I think because they were around at the same time as I spent many afternoons and all the pocket money I could scrounge on cinema visits. The Black Hole… The Dark Crystal… The Last Starfighter… Each title as forgotten as the last, and perhaps rightly so, but I devoured them all, often with the official novelisation (Alan Dean Foster feels like a name that cropped up often here) as a starter, which for some reason didn’t spoil the picture but simply added to the fun.
As for Krull, watching it again – possibly for the first time since my trip to the Regent in January/February 1984 – made for a wallowing in pure nostalgia. It was out at the perfect time for me – I’d just made the promotion from primary (juniors) to secondary (seniors) school and hadn’t yet developed the teenage surliness that would have turned it into a jaded no thanks. I recall enjoying it immensely, not because of its quality, rather the earnest attempt to entertain that’s thrown into each and every frame. By anyone’s standards, it’s no classic. The entire affair is derivative – the film seems to have been conceived as a mish-mash of Tolkein and Star Wars, with various elements cheekily grabbed from other genre entries (the Black Fortress, to me, was snatched off Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle) – as though put together by a focus group bent on working out what the kids wanted and throwing it at them. Some bits work. Others don’t. But it is good fun, and a decent $27 million budget was lavished on it that ensured the effects and technical elements looked no worse than anything else put out at the time.
Its major shortcoming is the two stars. Ken Marshall plays Colwyn, a Prince about to wed Lyssa (Lysette Anthony), the Princess of a neighbouring kingdom. All seems to be going well with the nuptials until the Slayers, alien invaders from the Black Fortress (a castle that lands on Krull from the depths of space) kidnap her, kill everyone else and leave Colwyn for dead. The villains’ aim is for their leader, The Beast, to marry Lyssa and conquer the planet, and in this they do the film a massive service. Colwyn and Lyssa aren’t reunited until the end, which ensures audiences don’t have to spend longer than is absolutely necessary to see Marshall and Anthony together; they have zero chemistry and reserve their worst acting for the brief romantic interludes between them. Fortunately, the bulk of the tale finds Lyssa trapped in the nightmarish maze that is the Fortress’s inner chambers, where she either tries and fails to escape or listens to the Beast wooing her with a mixture of taunts and threats.
As for Colwyn, he’s revived by a passing wise man, Ynyr (Freddie Jones), who joins him on a quest to defeat the evil Beast and his slayers. First, he needs to retrieve a mythical weapon called the Glaive, a rather nifty looking five-pointed boomerang with blades that featured prominently on Krull’s publicity. Then it’s off the Fortress, accompanied over the course of the film by a ragtag band of British character actors, who are by some distance the best bit about it. Robbie Coltrane, Liam Neeson and Todd Carty turn up in ‘before they were famous/in Eastenders’ supporting roles. Alun Armstrong is good fun as the cynical leader of a band of thieves. A hapless magician named Ergo the Magnificent (‘short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose and wide of vision’) is the comic relief, played by David Battley. The pick is Bernard Bresslaw’s Cyclops. Bresslaw won the role through sheer physical presence, and it’s strange to see a Carry On veteran turn out to be so effective in a somewhat melancholic part. In one of the film’s better scripted moments, it’s told that cyclops have one eye because they once sacrificed the other in exchange for the gift of seeing the future, only to learn they were tricked and could foresee naught but the moment of their own deaths.
Krull is scattered with similar lovely little bits of business, moments that shine through the formulaic narrative like scraps handed down from more original thinkers. Peter Yates filmed much of it in studio sets at Pinewood, which occasionally lends it an otherworldly veneer it might have lost on location. The scenes set in a swamp are surprisingly effective and eerie, particularly when Slayers emerge silently from one of the pools. Otherwise, it’s hit and miss, but rarely terrible and for a box office failure, a surprisingly watchable matinee movie.